Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is a Grand Strategy really Grand?

Formulating a grand strategy is not an easy task at all especially with the given situation today. The world today poses too many uncertainties and complex challenges. The unsolved old regional problems, the growing number of failed states, epidemic and other unpredicted diseases, natural disasters, climate change, are just to name few challenges that each country has to face. Furthermore, World Economic Forum has its own version of risks through Global Risk 2014 that mentioned 10 Global Risk of Highest Concerns in 2014. The concerns include fiscal crises in economies, structurally high unemployment/underemployment, water crises, severe income disparity, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, greater incidence of extreme weather events, global governance failures, food crises, failure of major financial mechanism/institutions, profound political and social instability.

source PEW Research Center 
                                                            Those challenges combined with the existing architecture, which is a relic of preoccupations and power relations of the previous century, make the old ways of solving problems might not work anymore. It is not adequate to address the problems of terrorism and radicalism to solely using the military technology. Economic incentives, reaching out to society, law enforcement, and the maximum utilization of internet would establish a more comprehensive solution than that of just using weapons.  

When all factors are interconnected and interdependent, particular focus may be necessary as a starter without undermining other priorities. A good particular focus should have spillover effect to enhance other priorities, not undermine them. Too much attention on certain issue will also risk in undermining other priorities. There is no guarantee that one way would be a panacea. Therefore, managing balance may help.

Due to the constant change, a strategy which was deemed as the best now could be expired. Like a company, the state also has to adapt to the changing environment to keep the domestic audience satisfied as well as maintaining influence abroad, not to mention trouble shooting. Action speaks louder than words. The stated grand strategy would not be so convincing if the action is different from what it had stated. People pay attention to the action and observe where the budget goes. For example, the international community will not be convinced if the US lead by the Obama administration has come nearer to ending the War on Terror when it spends more money to fight the terrorist groups.  

The US as a superpower has a special need that should be accommodated in its grand strategy. Its vast resources may tempt the US to extend itself with its military before other priorities are considered. Small states may formulate priorities easier with limited resources compared to big states. Power projection may confuse the real priorities and may shape the importance for others.

Whatever the grand strategy will be, it should be inherent with maintaining its standing. A good strategy if not maintained should not be considered as a good strategy either. Why? Because the US has invested so much in building the international system albeit the system is now out of synch with the current challenges. If the US is reluctant to maintain its standing, other emerging powers will fill the vacuum in the absence of the US in its leadership role.

A grand strategy should also not waste resources. It should be able to address problems in effective and efficient manner. There is a cost in the loss of opportunity while the US focuses on terrorism response as foreign policy. If a strategy is too costly, it will reduce the resources for other sectors like investment in infrastructure, trade, and human security that are important to accumulate power in the long term.

Amy Zegart views that the US should strive for "orienting principles," policy ideas that lie between ad hoc reactions to arising situations and grand visions of how the future should unfold. According to Zegart, orienting principles hold out the better prospect than foreign policy a la carte or a grand strategy that mis-estimates the threat environment and misunderstands the organizational requirements for success. Grand strategies should also anticipate and articulate a compelling future state of the world and galvanize the development of policies, institutions and capabilities at the domestic and international level to get us there.

Daniel W. Drezner convinces that a clear, coherent, and well-defined grand strategy is not a guarantee either that it is a good grand strategy, especially when its implementation leads to more harm than benefit. Strikingly surprising, although critics stress the importance of choosing the right grand strategy and catastrophic implications of selecting the wrong one, history suggests that grand strategies do not alter the trajectory of great power politics all that much. Despite the complexities of the grand strategy and the outcome of its implementation, Drezner views that doctrines are still needed in uncertain times.

Considering the analysts’ suggestions, the current challenges, different perceptions of threat, and anticipation of the future, there should be many questions we ask in thinking about the grand strategy: what are the anticipated challenges? May the grand strategy involve other parties (private/corporate, non-government organizations) in its implementation? How about the resource used in implementing it? How much and to what extend we would allow the use of resource for one priority? Will the strategy emphasize on cooperation or competition? Will the implementation of one strategy strengthen the other priority in certain way? How would other countries and non state actors respond to the strategy? Would we anticipate for that? What is expected from this strategy? How the existing environment can cope with this strategy? What is the opportunity cost of this strategy? What do we tolerate to sacrifice for this strategy? Is this a reactive strategy or an active one? How consistent should the strategy be implemented? What are the corrective measures when it goes wrong or being misinterpreted? How far the corrective measures will be? Should the corrective measure spend less or we allow it to spend more than what is being corrected? Should we reassess the strategy periodically or just let it flow and see how far it goes? How flexible is the strategy? How realistic is the strategy? How much is the gap between the aspirations and the capabilities? Is the expected outcome worth our spending? Will the outcome last in the long term? What are the exit strategies when things go wrong?

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